Curious: A Strategic Invitation

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We had a really great Thanksgiving season at my house this year.  Lots of family came – which is great.  But we had one extra special guest – my granddaughter.  She doesn’t live close by so it’s kind of a big deal when we get to spend some time with her.  The last time we were together she was not walking – but now she is!  And she likes to go places.

Sometimes she wants you to go with her.  Her verbal skills aren’t honed yet – so often it’s hard to understand exactly what she wants you to go see – but one thing is for sure – when she wants you to see something she wants you to come WITH HER – RIGHT NOW!  She will grab me by the finger and away she pulls in the direction she wants me to go.  And guess what – I GO!  She has power that she doesn’t even realize.

You know what, I think we all do.  I think we all have power to invite those around us to take a walk with us.  Whether literally or figuratively I believe we are all being given opportunities on a daily – yes daily basis to invite those around us to take one step in a strategic direction.  There’s the obvious – parents inviting their kids or bosses inviting their employees.  But just as strategic are those kids who are inviting their parents or those neighbors that are inviting other neighbors.  Anyone who is inviting someone else to consider a new idea or join them in doing something significant.

Why do I feel this way?  Because I believe that “anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.”*

Anyone?  Yes…anyone.

To understand this principle it’s important to note early what it is not saying.  It doesn’t say that no matter what we do that everyone will follow us anytime, anywhere.  That’s not going to happen.  But it does affirm something powerful – any of us CAN lead.

  • Any of us CAN choose to skillfully intervene in a challenging situation.
  • Any of us CAN choose to manage ourselves so as to be a more influential presence.
  • Any of us CAN choose to be more curious about a volatile moment than reactionary.
  • Any of us CAN choose to bring energy to a challenge rather than fade into the room.

But these are actions that require a choice.  Remember – when we speak about leadership in this series we talking about leadership as an activity – a verb.  Not everyone can sit at the helm of a great organization as the leader (noun).  But anyone CAN reach for the finger of another and invite them to a new place or thought.

This IS leadership.

*Kansas Leadership Center – Leadership Principle #2.

Curious: The Shawshank “Beer Scene”

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One of my favorite movies is the Shawshank Redemption.  And one of my favorite scenes from that movie is what I call the beer scene.  For those who haven’t seen it feel free to pop over to YouTube and search for the “Shawshank redemption beer scene”.  My guess is that you will find it.  Fair warning – there is some explicit language.

Anyway –

In the beer scene both prison guards and prisoners are on a commercial building roof.  It is 1949.  The prisoners are tarring the roof with mops while the guards watch and talk amongst themselves.  Prisoner, Andy Dufresne, overhears Captain Hadley (a guard) talk about inheriting some money from his deceased brother.  Hadley is sure that his newly inherited money is going to be riddled with taxes.  Taking his life into his own hands, Andy lays down his tarring mop and approaches Hadley.  This act alone could have gotten him killed.  He begins engaging the Captain in a conversation about how he can shelter the inheritance money from taxes and agrees to help him with one request.  “I’d only ask three beers a piece for each of my co-workers.  A think a man, working outdoors, feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds.”  This entire conversation is taking place while Captain Hadley has Andy by the shirt – only one step away from pushing him off the top of the building.  Spoiler alert – Andy lives and all of his “co-workers” enjoy a few beers before that job is done.

I love that scene.  Andy walks into the jaws of the lion – and with one strategic, albeit risky, act he engages in the work of leadership.  He was in no position of authority – formal or informal.  He was just a lowly prisoner.  A new one at that.  He had no standing among his fellow prisoners, much less the guards.  And yet – he led.  He engaged in an activity that fostered change for the good – helping prisoners feel more like real people.

The first principal of leadership is this, “Leadership is an activity, not a position.”

I grew up in a culture that viewed leadership very positionally.  I lived most of my life holding to that paradigm.  I haven’t dogmatically given up using the word as a descriptor of certain positions – but I process this word much differently now.  Why?  Because I’ve met several people in authority that (in my opinion) have exercised very little leadership.  I’ve been guilty of it myself.

The work of leadership is exactly that – its work.  It is effort.  And like every effort, it is begun and completed by action.  It is not inherently a part of any particular position but every position can be made better by it.  It is an effort born out of values and discipline that leverages a moment or a situation in an effort to foster progress.

Several months back I had a traumatic experience in my life.  I lost my job.  It really put me on my heels and my compass was spinning as to what to do next.  As a way to get some direction I gathered some trusted friends together who I had not seen in a while.  We met for lunch.  It was good to see them – but kind of awkward.  We all knew why we were there but I wasn’t quite sure how to start the conversation.  I continued to ask them about their families and lives until one friend stopped me and said, “Ron – we’re not here to talk about us.  We’re here to talk about you.”  For me, that was leadership.  That action clarified what we needed to talk about.  It mobilized me (and the rest of my friends) to focus on the elephant in the room.  Me.  My issue.  And we did.

Opportunities for solid acts of leadership are everywhere.  Discussions between family members, community members, parishioners.  Actions between coworkers or neighbors.  Whenever we are “mobilizing people (ourselves or others) to make progress on difficult challenges” we are leading* — because leadership is an activity.

Action steps…

So – What needs an act of leadership in your life/world today?  What action might you bring to that challenge?  Do you feel prepared?  Is there more information that should be gathered?  How will you gather that information?  What leadership experiment might you try?   Where will you start?

More to come…

*From the book TEACHING LEADERSHIP, by Chris Green and Julia Fabris McBride.

Curious – An Introduction

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Several years ago I was introduced to a new way of thinking about leadership.  At least it was new for me.  It started when I attended my community leadership program – Leadership Reno County.  It spread from there to the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC).  I’m told that the leadership ideas taught there actually trickled down from Harvard.  Whatever the source – they have been paradigm changing for me.

Many times over the last few years I’ve shared with colleagues and friends how much I wish I had been introduced to these ideas as a young man.  I hope that I would have been smart enough to embrace them back then – but it really doesn’t matter now.  That was then and now is now.  And now I’ve lived enough life to say from experience – these are valid principles.  They have substance.  I often tell people, when it comes to how leadership is being taught at KLC – I have totally “drank the kool-aid.”

So – as an act of affirmation and discipline – I’ve decided to embark on a blog series that I’m calling, simply, “Curious.”  The quest of the series is to navigate through each of the well-articulated principles of the KLC curriculum.   For those of you who have been exposed to these principles already there will very likely be very little new to be found here.  But for those who have not – I hope you will allow yourself to be curious with me for just a bit.

As a way of marinating you in the work we are about to engage in, I offer you the principles in their most concentrated form:

  1. Leadership is an activity, not a position.
  2. Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.
  3. It starts with you and must engage others.
  4. Your purpose must be clear.
  5. It’s risky.

I didn’t create these principles – I’m just a guy who has been impacted by them.  I’ll admit – I do love solid principles – and these seem to be doing it for me these days.  So here we go.

More soon…

The Power of the #2 Person – Dealing with Loneliness in Leadership

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For ten years I lead a startup organization.  I was the president and CEO.  They called me “Pastor.”  I had a board and before it was all done I had paid staff.  We had offices, utility bills, insurance policies and payroll.  We were a legitimate business, a going concern and I was leader of it.

Did I like being the leader?  Yes.  But it was far from glorious.

For those who have never been “the leader” before let me let you in on a little secret.  It’s not always a barrel of laughs.  As a matter of fact – sometimes – many times it’s downright hard.  And as crazy as it may sound – it can be lonely – very lonely.

Think about it –

  • Who are you going to talk with about your personnel issues on your management team?
  • Who’s going to help you process your organizations financial issues?
  • Who’s going to ask you – “are you sure you want to do that?”
  • Who’s going to encourage you? – “This is going to work. Keep going!”
  • Who’s always going to be candid and honest – “You really blew that one.”
  • Who’s going to be available enough, safe enough and trustworthy enough to process the things that are mentally distracting you – even when it means that you have to admit that you’ve had about all you can take?

In my last year of Pastoring I met another church leader that was also entrepreneuring a church.  By that time I was burning out.  I shared with him that I was tired and felt alone.  I’ll never forget his response.  “So – who’s your number 2 guy?”

Number 2 guy?  What is that?

He went on to explain.  Your number 2 guy is your right arm.  That guy (or gal) that not only has the gifts and skills to be a great part of your team but has a trust and commitment to you and the organization that sets them apart from the rest.   They are more than an employee – they’ve become a confidant – might I say – even a brother (or sister).

I remember saying, “I can’t afford a #2 guy.”  His response was quick and clear… “You can’t afford NOT to have a #2 guy.”

Since my days as a point leader (a #1 guy) I’ve talked to several other #1’s.  Let me assure you – they all understand this concept.  Those that I speak with, that have a working #2, tell me that the support, the encouragement and the comradery that comes with that relationship is synergistic.  They virtually gush about how much better life is now that they are working with a solid #2.

For those that don’t have one – sometimes there can be resistance to moving in that direction.  On the surface the idea can come off too “emotional” and “touchy-feely”.  It can appear as a luxury reserved only for leadership wimps.  Surely real leaders don’t need this kind of BFF thing.  That’s for sissies.  They just need to grow a pair and get some self-confidence.

If that is true then why have I found even the most gifted and confident leaders hungering for support – deep support.  Not just a pat on the back.  Not just a “you can do it” – but a present person who is safe to process tough issues with.  Someone who will listen.  Someone who will shoot straight with them and still have their back?  Someone that will be faithful to them (not necessarily agree – but be “FOR” them) when the season is rocky or great.

For those who are sure they can do it on their own – this rant is not for you.  I wish you all the best.

But for those who are doing it on their own – and they are dreadfully tired of it – and are sure that if something doesn’t change soon – no matter how good their ideas are or important their mission is – they are not going to make it – this IS for you.  Get over the idea that with another leadership conference, inspirational book or a few more hours of hard work that all your challenges will emerge into sunshine and roses.  They won’t.

Solid support is essential for the mind and heart of every leader.  For the vast majority of us it is foundational to not only staying healthy but allowing us to function out of our best gifts.  Take it from someone who’s been there.  It deserves to be taken seriously.

So how do you find a good number 2?  Here are some ideas to get you started…

  1. Declare it – Say it out loud…“I need a #2!” You don’t have to say it to anyone else – as a matter of fact, I don’t recommend it.  But you do need to admit it to yourself.  Put it on your “to-do” list.  If you don’t – it won’t get done.
  2. Budget for it – Yes, this is going to cost you – and not just a few bucks. Get over it.  You may be in a position to pull someone in that is already on your team.  For those with enough cash flow, a new hire might even be possible.  But for those on a lower budget or who are wondering if all this is really worth it – consider starting with a professional coach (see #9).
  3. Look around you – If you are in an organization that already has several quality people in it you may already have a sense of a possible #2. If so, keep reading.
  4. Go slow – Never declare a number 2 quickly. This position emerges over time.  It can only happen at the rate of trust and that is a slow process.
  5. Experiment – If you are wondering if someone on your present team has the potential to be a number 2 – invite them into processing a safer issue with you. See how it goes.
  6. Don’t force it – Not everyone is cut out to be a #2. Be honest with yourself and keep your standards high.  If your experimental conversations don’t feel productive – move on.
  7. Resist the “YES-MAN” (or woman) – If someone just agrees with everything you say, they are probably not going to be a good #2 guy/gal. This isn’t about agreement.  This is about support, authenticity and honesty.
  8. Create and observe boundaries – The interaction between a #1 and a #2 can be confidential and close. If confidences can’t be observed or if boundaries in a relationship can’t remain professional – steer clear.
  9. Find a Coach* – Not everyone has the luxury of finding a #2 on their current team. When expenses are tight or you’re just not sure if this is for you – one of the best ways to experiment with this concept is to hire a coach.  It’s a whole lot cheaper than hiring a new employee and you can try it for several months as a way to test it.  If it flops – then you can blame me and chalk it up to an experiment that didn’t pan out.  But if it works – and I wouldn’t have quacked this long if I didn’t feel it would – you will find your leadership noticeably stronger than when you started.

I totally get how easy it is for driven leaders to downplay the concept of needing a #2.  Remember – I was you.  I know what a full schedule looks like.  I know what feeling like I can do it myself feels like.  I know what limited funds look like too.  But I also know what frustration and loneliness feel like.  They suck.  And the price for staying there for too long is high.  Very high.

So who is your number 2?

*If you’d like to process the possibility of working with a Professional Coach…contact me. https://fishercoaching.wordpress.com/about/